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I’m a Better Dad Because I Let Other Men Beat Me Up Twice a Week

On the mat, it's all about negotiating your way out of tough situations.

fatherly logo How I Stay Sane

Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column in which real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their lives. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, parenting will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous. Just ask Jason Goldstein, who is 34 and lives in Boston. He’s a dad of one and a husband to his wife and has been doing jiu-jitsu on and off for the past ten years. The practice has been enormously beneficial to him.

I got into jiu-jitsu around 2009 when I started watching UFC. I had gotten into it right around the glory days, the Chuck Liddell era and wanted to see if I could do anything like that. I walked by a jiu-jitsu gym called Mass BJJ in Arlington. I just walked in and asked: “How does this work?”

From there, I got kind of obsessed with it, for four or five years, before I had kids. I did it like three or four times a week, at least. It’s pretty intense, so that’s a lot. And then about three years ago, I had my daughter. I was still doing it when she was a newborn but it became really difficult to do when she became 1 or 2. She wanted to see me all the time. So I had to put it down for a little bit, but now I’m back into it again, and trying to balance everything.

I love jiu-jitsu. It’s a great workout. But there’s also a mental health aspect to it. Jiu-jitsu really helps me get a mental distance from my work and from my home-life. When you’re sparring and rolling, you are focused on that. You don’t have to worry about work or anything else. You’re either trying to choke or tap someone out, or you’re trying not to be choked or tapped out. It’s definitely an in-the-moment thing, where you have to focus on something you have fun with, something that keeps you in great shape.

Right now I’m hitting the mat two to three times a week. I’d love to go more, but when you have a three-year-old, it becomes tough to do stuff like that. It’s usually an hour to an hour and a half class. It starts off with aerobics, and stretching, and it goes into technique, where you learn specific moves you can use against your opponents. And after that, it’s usually sparring sessions or rolling.

I get some of the tougher emotions out when sparring. Emotions that I wouldn’t have gotten out otherwise. I am going against, for the most part, other grown men who don’t necessarily want to hurt me but they want to do their best to impose their will upon me. I don’t want to sound like a misogynist or anything, but when I get to be a man, to follow my instincts, and get those instincts that I have to “fight” out, it’s a really good feeling. There’s a big release of endorphins. There’s also a sense of kinship to the practice. I fight with the guys at my gym often. We’ve become friends. It’s a fun thing to learn together and get better at together.

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I am pretty exhausted by the time class finishes up. I get home, and I try to see my daughter before she falls asleep if I can, but even if I miss out on seeing her, it’s a great feeling to feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’ve done a full day, I’ve gotten a good workout in. You’re doing something you like.

The biggest thing that jiu-jitsu has helped me with is how to deal with those times in life where I’m in a bad position, and I just want to quit. One of the things I learned really on during a match is having to push through that feeling. Like, with my daughter, when she’s crying at 3 a.m. like she was last night for no reason. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I wanted to cry myself. That’s a moment where I realized that I have to take a big breath, and just decompress and compartmentalize and say, “I can do this, we can do this, and I am going to get through this.” That’s all jiu-jitsu.

Jiu-jitsu is an escape.And every time I go to the gym, I always know that I have someone waiting back home who wants to see me. It might seem like a contradiction, but the act of balancing work, my passions, and family life is difficult, and that helps. I need to be present in all the areas in my life. The sense of being present, on that mat, carries over into parenting, to work. It helps me balance and value the time I have when I’m with my daughter more, and it also helps me value my free time, however limited it might be.